As the COVID-19 pandemic swept into Montana, it spread into the Marias Heritage Center assisted living facility, then flowed into the nearby 21-bed hospital.
Toole County quickly became the state’s hot spot for COVID-19 deaths, with more than four times the infection rate of all other counties and the most recorded deaths in the state. Six of the state’s 16 COVID deaths through Tuesday have occurred here.
But another danger loomed: What if it got into the prison, less than 4 miles away from the hospital and assisted living facility? The county was nearly overwhelmed as it was. Across rural America, prisons and jails sit in places like Toole County that have minimal intensive care unit beds and ventilators and few additional medical resources. Many hospitals there were strained before the pandemic.
This rural, 5,000-person county tucked under the Canadian border might not have seemed like a breeding ground for